Wild by Cheryl Strayed – a book you should read

(Something I wrote during a frenzied writing challenge:)

With writing that is nothing short of merciless, unflinching and raw, here is a book for those who are willing to have their heart broken and put back together again.

You will not get the condensed version of suffering. Strayed will not brush over death with a six-word obituary. She will not briefly list her suffering and move onto the story. Her suffering is the story. It’s the blood that runs through the veins of the story and she draws it from her own veins, as she recounts the very difficult steps she took towards healing her soul.

Throughout Wild, Cheryl Strayed documents the thousands and thousands of steps she took, arriving in such a way that it almost seems nonchalant (but the reader knows it’s anything but).

As I was reading, I felt hunger pangs when Cheryl was starving. I craved Snapple lemonade without even knowing what this was but the product came to mean something to me, because the descriptions are nothing short of vivid and visceral. I felt my feet taking the same steps. I felt exhausted after each chapter. I could feel her Monster backpack digging into my skin. Being a woman, I also felt the sharp pangs of fear as a woman travelling alone, conjuring up similar feelings from when I travelled alone in a dangerous country. All your senses are awake and alert. You see every eye darting, every hand gesture and you feel yourself on display like a piece of art on there for everyone to stare at, hoping no one will break the invisible barrier that says ‘do not touch’.

But being alone is not only humbling; as a woman it’s empowering. When Cheryl quotes Adrienne Rich, one of my favourite poets, my heart soars along with the words.

Here’s an extract:

‘It was a deal I’d made with myself months before and the only thing that allowed me to hike alone. I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.

I was working too hard to be afraid.’

After I had sufficiently cried through the first few chapters, I rang my mother The Breast Cancer Survivor, and just held onto the phone tightly, willing myself not to cry, so I wouldn’t have to explain why I had called her for the first time in so long, why she normally had to be the one who always called me. I didn’t want to have to speak about the shift that had changed my world, that had made the earth move a little, forcing my own steps to move faster to keep up with the earth.

I remember a while back falling into a strange place and time and not being able to lift myself out of the depression that had befallen me. I saw the balcony from our London apartment and I wanted to just jump from it into the canal below and swim away, to escape from it all. Just as the thought came into my mind, so too did the song from an iPod. And sometimes that’s all it takes. A few words to wake us up from a strange reverie.

Let it be, it sang. Mother Mary. Words of wisdom. Let it be. The calmness washing over me, knowing that these wild thoughts could be tamed by just letting it be.

You have to unleash a bit of the wild into yourself to really feel something. Find yourself all over again in the fallen grace. Don’t just read this book. Consume it, inhale it, dance with it in your arms. You are on the Pacific Crest Trail and we are all on a strayed path, in need of a shower and counting our pennies. Cheryl (or Sugar as she is known to many of her fans on the internet) takes us on a breathless journey and there are moments when you’re not sure you’re going to make it, although this book is proof that we can all cross that final stretch and find our way home. This book is an awakening. This book should not be burned, not even to save room on a long journey.

Her very last line slayed me. I suggest you read all the way until the end, if only to get to that epic sentence.

It’s raining so hard right now that I can’t see the buildings in the distance, only their faint outline, slightly grey against the sky’s background. For a moment, it’s almost raining on me and I feel cleansed.

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